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Small Grants Program

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Graduate Funding for Atkinson Thematic Areas

Cornell Atkinson’s Small Grants Program supports Cornell graduate students and postdocs with funding for research that aligns with our primary research areas:

Accelerating Energy Transitions: The adoption of new forms of clean energy, such as smart-grid technology, solar, requires the integration of engineering and social science solutions across a range of topics in order to advance technology development and adaptation, urban-rural connections, innovation in operation and business models, and community engagement.

Advancing One Health: Human health and wellbeing are inextricably linked to the health of wildlife, livestock, and the environment. Improved food, water, and energy infrastructure are urgently needed to protect the natural systems that provide opportunities for recreation, hunting, and fishing and to minimize human exposure to parasites, pathogens, and pollution.

Increasing Food Security: Improving the systems of agriculture, aquaculture, and wild food harvest is essential for meeting the nutritional needs of all those living today while enhancing the quality of life of those producing the food—and the land and aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems on which they depend.  Transdisciplinary and collaborative projects that address food security challenges require both research and action, at scales from local to global.

Reducing Climate Risks: Innovative technology, financial instruments, and policy can help reduce greenhouse gas concentrations and adapt infrastructure, agriculture, and health systems to equitably protect human health, safety, and prosperity from the impact of increasingly catastrophic weather events.

Cornell Atkinson’s Small Grants Program is supported with generous gifts from Bruce H. Bailey ’74; Dan ’47 and Pat Cornwell; Laurie Paravati Phillips ’78 and Duane Phillips ’78; and other Cornell Atkinson donors.

Recipients

2021 Small Grants Program

Increasing Food Security: Five recipients from Global Development, Horticulture, and Masters of Public Health

Yejin Son (Horticulture)

Yejin Son (Horticulture)

Uncovering the Role of Polyphosphate Accumulating Organisms and Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi in Soil for Enhanced Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration

Healthy soils are fundamental for food security, but intensive farming practices have negatively impacted various aspects of soil health, including soil aggregation and carbon storage. Soil microorganisms, especially certain fungi, aid soil organic carbon sequestration, but much remains unknown about these collaborative effects. Advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin, Ph.D. student Yejin Son’s research aims to discover how polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) recovered from manure could work with these fungi to sequester organic carbons in the rhizosphere of Irish Potato, potentially leading to improved food security and agricultural techniques, as well as increased use of PAOs as a phosphorus biofertilizer option and climate change mitigation.

Connor Lane (Horticulture)

Connor Lane (Horticulture)

Apple Microbiome Responses to Preharvest Chemical Treatments Affecting Ethylene Production

Connor Lane is a Ph.D. student advised by Jenny Kao-Kniffin. While plant microbiomes are increasingly recognized as important for the optimal functioning of agricultural systems, little is known about fruit-associated microbiomes. The apple microbiome is of interest due to the role microbes play in apple diseases and spoilage during postharvest storage. In this study, Lane proposes investigating the microbiome response to different plant growth regulators that slow ripening and spoilage by limiting ethylene production. He will also examine the apple microbiome’s functional traits. These findings on microbial dynamics related to treatments with postharvest effects will pave the way to a greater understanding of food spoilage and dietary effects on the human gut microbiome.

Emily Hillebrand (Global Development)

Emily Hillebrand (Global Development)

Engaging Men to Improve Gender Equality, Food Security, and Sustainable Livelihoods in Malawi

Emily Hillebrand is a Ph.D. candidate working with Rachel Bezner Kerr, examining processes and implications of gender-transformative approaches and shifting masculinities in Burundi and Malawi’s agriculture development. Her research will be conducted in partnership with Soils, Food, and Healthy Communities (SFHC), a farmer-led non-profit organization that addresses the challenges of soil infertility, climate change, food insecurity, and gender inequality in Malawi. This study will be carried out in 10 SFHC target communities, reaching more than 300,000 people, to examine the effects of a gender-transformative intervention on couples’ key household negotiations related to food security, nutrition, and livelihoods strategies. The study will pay particular attention to how men participate in gender activities and what factors contribute to their engagement and personal changes.

Emily Baker (Global Development)

Emily Baker (Global Development)

Participatory Agrobiodiversity Mapping Informs Sustainable Livelihoods, Food Security, and Socio-ecological Resilience

Emily Baker is a Ph.D. student studying smallholder farmers’ cultivation and understanding of agricultural biodiversity in the Rwenzori Mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and western Uganda. Diversified agroforestry and home garden systems have gendered implications for smallholder social and ecological resilience, livelihoods, and food security. Working with Rachel Bezner Kerr, Baker seeks to understand the ways that intersectional and intergenerational agrobiodiversity knowledge and agency are linked with macro drivers of social and environmental change, and can inform policy approaches and community decision-making for local conservation, food security, and equitable approaches to social and ecological resilience.

Maria Arnot (Masters of Public Health)

Maria Arnot (Masters of Public Health)

Effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing on Adult Dietary Changes

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) launched a Produce Prescription Program in Tompkins County in 2018 to prescribe fruits and vegetables as medicine for high-risk participants with low food security, low income, and diet-related health issues. Simultaneously, this program supports local organic farmers who grow and sell the fresh produce that is provided to program participants weekly. By 2020, the program had expanded to 75 participants. Working with Baz Perry at CCE, Master of Public Health candidate Maria Arnot will assess the effectiveness of motivational interviewing on the participants’ dietary changes through this program. While research shows that motivational interviewing can be influential in promoting lifestyle changes, especially in substance abuse treatment, minimal research is available as to how this can be applied to dietary behavior changes, particularly when paired with existing produce prescription programs

2020 Small Grants Program

Reducing Climate Risk: Four recipients from Architecture, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Soil + Crop Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine

Yang Yang (Architecture)

Yang Yang (Architecture)

Energy and Mobility-aware Urban Design: A Mobility Simulator Assisting Urban Design Decision-making for Mitigating Energy Consumption and Transportation Emissions

Yang Yang is a master’s student advised by Timur Dogan in the Department of Architecture. She will use funding from Cornell Atkinson to develop a mobility simulator to aid urban design decision-making for mitigating energy consumption and transportation emissions. The research is expected that it will enhance the design and planning of mobility solutions, energy use, and urban form. This could facilitate the early discovery of synergies that lead to better cities with lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Ranaivo Rasolofoson (College of Veterinary Medicine)

Ranaivo Rasolofoson (College of Veterinary Medicine)

Drowning and Climate Change in Small-scale Fishing Communities Around Lake Victoria

Ranaivo Rasolofoson is a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Veterinary Medicine, advised by Kathryn Fiorella. He is interested in investigating the impacts of environmental programs and environmental changes on human wellbeing and environmental outcomes. With support from Cornell Atkinson, Rasolofson will explore the potential effects of climate change on drowning deaths in small-scale fishing communities in low-income country settings, to raise awareness on the necessity of effective measures to mitigate the effects of climate change of such communities.

Prince Ochonma (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Prince Ochonma (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Accelerated and Sustainable Bio-Hydrogen Generation with Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Technology for Advancing a Negative Emissions Future

Prince Ochonma is a Ph.D. student in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, advised by Greeshma Gadikota. This project involves developing accelerated and sustainable bio-hydrogen generation with integrated carbon capture and storage technology, to advance a negative emissions future by producing H2 from renewable biomass sources with in-situ CO2 capture. The building blocks for this technology include water, aqueous or solid biomass, and alkaline resources such as industrial residues or naturally occurring minerals. This technology could be integrated with a bio-refinery and adapted to utilize agricultural or dairy waste generated in rural communities, or food waste in rural and urban regions. Sophomore Claire Blaudeau also received a supplemental undergraduate grant to assist with this research.

Laurel Lynch (Soil + Crop Sciences)

Laurel Lynch (Soil + Crop Sciences)

Defining Fundamental Tradeoffs Between Microbial Activity and Soil Carbon Sequestration

Laurel Lynch is a postdoctoral associate advised by Johannes Lehmann in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. As an ecosystem ecologist, she is interested in how microbial and environmental drivers influence the molecular composition of dissolved organic matter. With this funding, Laurel seeks to better understand how the composition and spatial distribution (between soil horizons and across landscapes) of microbial residues shape systems-level Carbon cycling. These natural climate solutions have the potential to meet ~40% of the carbon reductions needed to keep climate warming below 2°C and confer co-benefits, such as wildlife habitat, improved human health outcomes, and better air and water quality.

2019 Small Grants Program

Increasing Food Security: Four recipients from Entomology, Soil and Crop Sciences, Natural Resources, and Plant Breeding and Genetics

Reducing Climate Risk: Four recipients from Architecture, Anthropology, Biological and Environmental Engineering, and Soil and Crop Sciences

Itamar-Ariel Shabtai (Soil and Crop Sciences)

Itamar-Ariel Shabtai (Soil and Crop Sciences)

Can Improved Drainage Water Management in Peat Soils Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emission and Optimize Crop Yields?

Itamar Shabtai is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Integrative Plant Science working in Johannes Lehmann’s lab. He is interested in how soil water content can be managed to stabilize organic carbon in the soil. Peat soils contain more organic carbon than all the forests of the worlds combined but their degradation under agricultural use is responsible for 6% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Itamar will leverage ACSF funding to study how improving the water budget of agricultural peat soils can minimize peat carbon decomposition. This work will help develop management tools to reduce CO2 emissions from agricultural peat soils.

Alexa Schmitz (Biological and Environmental Engineering)

Alexa Schmitz (Biological and Environmental Engineering)

Extracting Rare Earth Elements with Engineered Microorganisms for Sustainable Energy

Alexa is a postdoctoral researcher with the Barstow Lab in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering. Her research focuses on the development of an efficient and sustainable solution to the growing demand for rare earth elements in light of their utilization for renewable energy technologies, especially wind turbines. In collaboration with researchers at the Idaho National Lab, Alexa is using the bacterium, Gluconobacter oxydans, to extract these critical metals from end-of-life waste materials via its production of strong, but biodegradable, organic acids. This bioleaching process will hopefully replace some of the more harmful technologies currently in place for rare earth extraction. Funding from the Atkinson Center will support Alexa’s development of whole-genome knockout collections in G. oxydans, allowing her to comprehensively identify genes underlying the bioleaching process that can be targeted for improvement through bioengineering.

Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology)

Luisa Cortesi (Anthropology)

The Flood Room

Luisa Cortesi (PhD, Yale, Forestry and Environmental Studies and Anthropology) is currently the S.H. Taylor postdoc in Anthropology and STS. She is an environmental anthropologist, interested in the environmental knowledge of increasingly disastrous waters, in particular floods and toxic drinking water, and environmental justice. She works primarily in North Bihar, India, a place that is recurrently flooded and increasingly so, where she asks under which conditions are people better equipped to face a disaster.

Allison Bernett (Architecture)

Allison Bernett (Architecture)

Early Design Decision-making Framework for Simulating Building Energy, Carbon, and Cost

Allison is pursuing a master of architecture degree and working in Dr. Timur Dogan’s Environmental Systems Lab in the architecture department. Prior to Cornell, Allison worked as a sustainability consultant. Her research in the lab focuses on developing an early design decision-making building simulation framework that when furnished with basic inputs generates design options that can be filtered by energy performance, carbon footprint, and cost criteria. Given that architects make critical early design decisions on orientation, massing, and structure that significantly affect the energy use and carbon footprint of the design, such a framework aims to better inform these initial decisions, reducing time and cost while improving building performance.

William Stafstrom (Plant Breeding and Genetics)

William Stafstrom (Plant Breeding and Genetics)

Modeling Mycotoxin Risk in a Tanzanian Smallholder Farming System

Will Stafstrom is a Plant Breeding and Genetics graduate student working in Dr. Rebecca Nelson’s maize disease lab. He studies various ways of mitigating the harmful effects of mycotoxins produced by maize fungal pathogens. His research spans multiple scales from the genetic basis of mycotoxin resistance to landscape wide indicators of mycotoxins. His work supported by the Atkinson Center will focus on modeling mycotoxin risk in a smallholder farming system in Tanzania by integrating local surveys of mycotoxins with remote sensing datasets of environmental factors. This project intends to improve understanding of mycotoxins’ relationship with environmental conditions and to develop a useful tool for predicting mycotoxin risk areas on a yearly basis.

Ryan Lepak (Natural Resources)

Ryan Lepak (Natural Resources)

Tracing Sources of Mercury Contamination in Freshwater Fisheries Across Space and Time

Ryan Lepak is a postdoctoral research associate working with Peter McIntyre in the Department of Natural Resources, Casey Dillman, Cornell Museum of Vertebrates and the Mercury Research Laboratory in the US Geological Survey. His research focuses on understanding current and past sources of neurotoxic methylmercury to freshwater fisheries of central Africa by measuring stable isotope tracers in fish preserved in museums worldwide. The support from SBF will allow Ryan to visit and subsample fish from European museums that predate many instances of anthropogenic mercury contamination like mercury-mediated small-scale artisanal gold mining which has expanded rapidly in this region in unregulated ways. Accessing greater spatial and temporal coverage from museums specimens will allow Ryan to better inform the region of the extent of contamination and inform these impoverished nations of realistic baselines they may strive to achieve for safer fish consumption.

Eugene Law (Soil and Crop Sciences)

Eugene Law (Soil and Crop Sciences)

Soil Carbon Storage and Soil Structure Impacts of ‘Kernza’ Intermediate Wheatgrass

Eugene Law is a PhD candidate in Soil and Crop Sciences co-advised by Toni DiTommaso (Weed Ecology and Management Lab) and Matt Ryan (Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab). His current research explores the development of cropping systems and market opportunities for two novel perennial grain crops, intermediate wheatgrass and perennial cereal rye, using a systems approach that incorporates aspects of agronomy, ecology, soil science, and economics. He will use funding from the Atkinson Center to expand the breadth of his research on how perennial grain crops might enhance soil health by comparing indicators of soil carbon storage and soil structure regeneration in fields of perennial intermediate wheatgrass and annual wheat.

Ashley Jernigan (Entomology)

Ashley Jernigan (Entomology)

Elucidating the Effect of Soil Fauna on Crop Yields through Nutrient Cycling

Ashley Jernigan is a PhD student in Kyle Wickings’ lab in the Department of Entomology. She is interested in the effect of soil microarthropods on crop productivity and agroecosystem functioning. Her research explores how changes in microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts nutrient cycling and plant pathogen transmission and suppression. With this funding, Ashley is completing a project investigating how alterations to microarthropod abundance and community composition impacts soil nitrogen cycling and plant nutrient acquisition under different fertilizer treatments. Elucidating these important agroecosystem relationships will allow for improved management of crops and will lead to increased system resiliency.

Primary Research Areas:

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